The Big Push Offering ‘Sweat Equity’ to Female Entrepreneurs

The Big Push is a new female-led accelerator that is going beyond writing cheques and mentoring early-stage technology companies founded by women.

Founder and CEO Sharon Zohar says the new accelerator’s “heavy lifting” is what makes the Big Push different from other female-focused incubators.

“Other accelerators focus on bringing female entrepreneurs and investors together to build up female-led companies. Our focus is on rolling up our sleeves and doing the actual work,” says Zohar, who’s been an entrepreneur for nearly two decades.

“Sweat equity is the cornerstone of what we are doing. We put our time and effort into creating and executing a project plan.”

With a focus on helping companies scale, the accelerator uses an equity-for-service model. That means the Big Push invests time into high-potential female-founded startups by way of hands-on services, support and resources in exchange for three to five per cent equity.

A collective of female senior executives works with startups to get founders investment ready, from developing a marketing strategy to financial planning. Delivered over a four to six month period, these professional services translate to between $50,000 to $100,000, a time investment that is repaid in an equity exchange triggered when the female-led startups reach their milestones.

Female entrepreneurs still struggle with scaling their companies, Zohar explains. That’s where she sees the Big Push really stepping in to help.

“We put our time and effort into creating and executing a project plan.”

Female Entrepreneurs Navigating Male-Dominated Venture Capital World

A recent U.S. study found that female entrepreneurs receive less than three per cent of available venture funding despite owning 38 per cent of businesses. Zohar credits that barrier to a shortage of women on the other side.

“When you are talking about female entrepreneurs and their ideas, sometimes it doesn’t resonate with a full board of white men in their fifties and sixties.”

Although the Big Push is female-led, Zohar says they don’t want to create a female silo, explaining female entrepreneurs have to learn to navigate through that male-dominated ecosystem.

“We want them to build up the confidence and make them understand how to work within the current system and position themselves for investors.”

The Big Push has tapped Kirstine Stewart, the chief strategy officer at Diply, and Angus Frame, the senior VP of digital products at Torstar for their advisory board.

“It was very important for us to have a man on the board… to integrate the male voice and ear too,” says Zohar. “While it is important they have a female network to be connected to and feel support from, we want to suit them up so they can integrate with and have strong conversations with the other 50 per cent.”

Zohar recognizes the Big Push’s service-for-equity is a high-risk approach since not all startups will succeed. However, she feels that the accelerator’s efforts will increase their chance at scaling.

“I built the Big Push because it is something as an entrepreneur that I feel like I really needed, And I’m hearing it more and more from entrepreneurs about how much they need it,” he says.

Selected through an online application, the Big Push will support up to 10 female entrepreneurs a year through the Toronto-Kitchener-Waterloo corridor. Zohar says she has future plans to create a service-for-equity crowdfunding platform that will open up their “sweat equity” model to more companies.